Island foxes have no natural predators, which allows them to hunt during daylight hours with peaks in activity at dusk and dawn. The foxes have definitely become accustomed to the boatloads of people that arrive, and instead of hiding, sneak in for a closer look and for a snack. Feeding the foxes is not only illegal, but could hurt them, so visitors are strongly advised to keep food in special "fox boxes" and away from prying paws.

Photo by: Ian Shive

Ian Shive

Meet the Island Fox of Channel Islands National Park

When I first started photographing Channel Islands National Park in Southern California in the mid-1990s, it was a very different place. As more and more people seek unique outdoor experiences, visitors to the islands have increased, but the most notable change I’ve witnessed over the years is the recovery of the park’s endemic island fox.

February 01, 2021

The fox population in the park was decimated by a lethal combination of human activities and predation by golden eagles, among other factors, such as invasive species. On San Miguel Island, the fox numbers dropped dramatically, from 400 foxes in 1994 to just a few dozen in 1998. On Santa Cruz Island, my favorite of the islands to visit and photograph, approximately 15 foxes remained at the population’s lowest point, and the species was listed as endangered.

Nature In Focus | Island Fox 03:39

Nature photographer and conservationist Ian Shive heads to Channel Islands National Park in California to document the Island Fox's resurgence from the brink of extinction. Island Foxes are the smallest fox in North America and are found only in the Channel Islands.

So it’s no wonder that as a photographer just starting out and seeking to photograph a charismatic creature, I really struggled. For years I searched for the fox, covering miles of territory and lugging equipment, which in the early 2000s was much heavier than today. It wasn’t until 2006 that I captured my first image of a fox, with a radio collar around his neck. I was so happy!

The radio collar was a sign of the ongoing population recovery efforts, which included captive breeding programs and a reintroduction of the fox as well as the elimination of invasive species and predators of the fox. While those efforts were happening, I continued to visit the islands in my free time, covering the miles, armed with the only telephoto lens I had at the time, my trusty 70-200mm F2.8 with the optional 2.0x and 1.4x extenders.

Photo by: Ian Shive

Ian Shive

Nearly every image I made for the next decade was with this combination of lens and extender. There were an occasional few moments, especially in the later years, when I’d be sitting in the grass photographing wildflowers and a young pup would approach me. Curious, as the fox often is, he’d be too close for this lens! In that case, the 24-70mm was handy, but I definitely lost a few shots while trying to make a switch.

Today the islands tell a new story. The fox on Santa Cruz is abundant. Captive breeding programs ended in 2008 and, for the most part, the fox population has continued its steady climb, which in 2016 resulted in its removal by the US Fish & Wildlife Service from the endangered species list. Being on an island means that the fox will always be susceptible to threats, and its official status remains “near threatened,” but the future looks bright with proper management.

As a photographer visiting these islands for over 20 years, I feel lucky to have so intimately witnessed and documented this story. The fox is now a very common site in campgrounds and on trails all over the island — a photographers dream! Some are so comfortable around people that they regularly get close…or take naps in the grass right off the trail. It’s easy to forget they are wild animals and not pets, which the first people to these islands, the Native American Chumash, actually kept them as! As such, be sure to never leave out food or approach them. Let wild be wild.

Ian Shive

Ian Shive is a photographer, author, film and television producer, and conservationist who has been praised as the “leading chronicler of America’s national parks.”

Next Up

Secret Tunnels Beneath the Desert

Conservationist and nature photographer Ian Shive takes Mojave National Preserve in California to share with us the mystery and magic that lies within the desert.

Protecting Pink Dolphins and Piranhas Deep in the Amazon Jungle

Deep in the Amazon jungle, almost a two hour boat ride from the nearest town, lies a complex wetland system where pink dolphins, black caiman, exotic birds, piranhas, and endangered fish live.

It's Baby Season at Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network

It’s easy to think of a wildlife photographer on assignment and picture the epic and exotic moments of migrations on the African Serengeti, bison standing tall on the grasslands of Yellowstone National Park or millions of migrating snow geese moving from the arctic to their winter roost thousands of miles south, but there is an equally incredible story taking place right in every backyard.

Starry Night Toad Found After Decades of Supposed Extinction

A Harlequin Toad that was lost to science for nearly three decades has emerged from the jungle.

This Alaska Conservation Center Rescues Orphaned Wildlife

Wolves, bears, and porcupines are just some of the animals that can be found at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

A Look at ‘Rewilding’ Around the World

A look at 'rewilding' around the world. Resist by doing absolutely nothing.

Papua New Guinea’s Guardians Of The Sea

Papua New Guinea’s Stunning Corals Are Under Threat–Here’s Who’s Trying to Save Them

How a Change in Fishing Practices Saved Coral Reefs

Learn how a change in fishing practices unintentionally preserved the coral reefs of the Lakshadweep archipelago off the coast of India

Bring It On, Mount Whitney

Climbing the world’s highest peaks tests every aspect of your being, and as a nature photographer, it can test your skill.

It Is Time to Stop Wildlife Trafficking

Wildlife trafficking is the world’s fourth largest illegal trade, after drugs, human trafficking, and counterfeiting, says the World Wildlife Fund.
Related To: